Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial were all pilots aboard the medical evacuation helicopter. They died when their aircraft went down while conducting night-vision goggle proficiency training in the local training area, according to a New York Guard news release.
The three were assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 171st General Support Aviation Battalion, which trains to perform aeromedical evacuation missions, according to the release.
There were no other personnel on the helicopter, New York Guard officials said.
A team arrived Thursday from the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, to begin its investigation of the accident, according to the release.
"These soldiers were a part of our National Guard family, and we mourn their loss, alongside their family members and loved ones," the release states. "The New York National Guard will be there for these family members as they navigate these trying times. Our chaplains and casualty assistance officers will be with them whenever needed."
Skoda, 58, served on active duty from 1985 to 1987 and had been in the Guard ever since. In 1992, he became a pilot and began flying UH-1 Huey helicopters from the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester, New York. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 and 2019 and was an experienced pilot with nearly 5,000 flying hours, according to the release.
In addition to Black Hawks and Hueys, he was rated to fly OH-58 Kiowas, AH-1 Cobras and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. Skoda, who was single, served as a UH-60 senior instructor pilot, an instrument flight instructor and a UH-60 maintenance test pilot, according to the release. He worked as a full-time Guard technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Rochester International Airport, as well as serving as a member of C Company of the 171st.
"He was a friend and mentor to all the soldiers in his unit, supporting the training and career progressions of hundreds of aircrews throughout his career, according to soldiers at the flight facility," the release states.
Skoda's awards included the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, NATO Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, Army Reserve Overseas Training Ribbon, Department of State Superior Honor Award, Humanitarian Service Medal, Master Army Aviator Badge, Air Assault Badge, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation.
Koch, 39, was a 20-year veteran of the New York Army Guard. He initially served as an infantryman in A Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, before becoming a helicopter pilot in 2006, according to the release.
He deployed to Iraq from 2008 to 2009 and then to Afghanistan from 2012 to 2013. He also served as part of Operation Noble Eagle, the National Guard security mission in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Koch, who had 2,350 flying hours, flew Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters. He served as a senior instructor pilot and instrument flight instructor. In civilian life, Koch worked as a civilian pilot for the New York State Police, according to the release.
"His hard work and drive [led] him to becoming the senior instructor pilot for the unit; his motivation and infectious personality made him a great soldier, leader and father," according to unit members, the release states.
Koch's awards include the Air Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Army Forces Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Reserve Overseas Training ribbon, Army Parachutist Badge, Senior Army Aviator Badge, Air Assault Badge, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Koch also had a bachelor's degree in mathematics from The College at Brockport State, which is part of the University of New York.
He was married to Teressa DaGama, according to the release.
Prial, 30, was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and had served in the Army since 2012. While on active duty, he served as a medical evacuation platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division's 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, according to the release. He deployed to Afghanistan from 2014 to 2015 with the 82nd and later served as an instructor pilot for students at Fort Rucker, where the Army trains helicopter pilots.
He earned his captain's bars before accepting an appointment as a warrant officer in the New York Army National Guard, so he could continue to fly, the release states. Prial, who was single, worked as a federal technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Rochester International Airport and had 670 hours flying Black Hawk helicopters.
Soldiers in his unit described Prial as "extremely humble and family centric," according to the release.
"He had an ability to fit in quickly and make an immediate impact on new groups," the release states.
Prial's awards include the Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, NATO Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal, and Army Aviator Badge.
The Fort Rucker team investigating the accident is gathering "all relevant data and evidence" from before, during, and after the accident," according to the release. It will investigate the potential human, materiel and environmental factors that may have caused or led to the accident.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.